Metro Weekly

Tennessee Republicans pass bill allowing adoption agencies to turn away gay couples

Bill shrinks pool of available foster and adoptive parents in the name of protecting religious beliefs

Tennessee State Capitol Senate Chamber – Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel, via Wikimedia.

Tennessee Republicans dedicated their first efforts of this year’s legislative session to allowing adoption and foster agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.

The state Senate passed a measure — approved in the House last year — that allows faith-based, private adoption agencies to refuse to place children with certain couples or foster parents based on a number of different characteristics, including marital status, religion, or sexual orientation, if doing so would violate an agency’s written religious or moral convictions.

The bill would also protect agencies from being sued, or losing tax benefits, grants, state contracts, or their license to operate if they refuse to refer prospective parents whom they won’t serve to other agencies who might be more willing to work with them.

As it did in the House, the measure passed the Senate largely along party lines, with all Democrats voting against it and all but one Republican, Sen. Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), voting to approve the bill.

The measure now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature into law, reports Fox affiliate WZTV.

LGBTQ and civil liberties advocates lamented the bill’s passage as an example of government-sanctioned discrimination, arguing that it will only deny children in the foster care system the chance to be placed with loving families.

They also encouraged their allies, particularly those in the business community who might have some clout with Lee, to urge the governor to veto the bill.

“Decades of research consistently show that the quality of adoptive parenting is not determined by the parents’ sexual orientation or faith denomination, but rather their ability to guide and raise their adopted children with qualities like dedication, empathy, adaptability and warmth,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said in a statement.

“Passing a bill that funds discrimination in adoption and foster care is one of the worst ways to start a legislative session,” Chris Sanders, the director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said in a statement. “Despite a vigorous debate on the bill, the best interests of children in Tennessee lost today. We join friends and allies across the country in calling for the governor to veto the bill.”

Christina Wilson Remlin, the lead counsel for Children’s Rights, a national children’s welfare advocacy organization, noted that the biggest barriers to placing children with families is a lack of qualified foster or adoptive parents.

As such, allowing agencies to discriminate based on purported religious beliefs severely shrinks the pool of possible placements for children in the foster care system. 

“We vehemently oppose any move that would limit the number of safe and loving homes available to children who need and deserve them,” Wilson Remlin said in a statement. “We ask the advocacy and business communities and all others who have spoken out against SB 1304 in the past to renew their calls for equality and urge Governor Bill Lee to reject a bill that is bad public policy and harmful to innocent kids.”

Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, accused Tennessee lawmaker of “disregarding the best interests of kids in the child welfare system” in order to make a political statement expressing moral objections to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

“This bill does nothing to improve the outcomes for children in care, shrinks the pool of prospective parents and is a blatant attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ Tennesseans,” David said in a statement. “It is shameful that one of the first orders of business in Nashville was to target LGBTQ people. We urge Tennesseans to make their voices heard in opposition to this bill as it heads to the governor’s desk.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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